In the video, Brenda Sanders-Passmore is seated in a simple chair in her yoga studio. Soothing colours on the walls and a soft lighting suit her instructions.
“Big relaxed breath…”
She’s leading a chair yoga class, and it's streaming online as well. It’s one of the ways she’s making yoga accessible for everyone.
“You can’t fail at yoga,” she said. “It’s my goal to make them feel comfortable, that they’re not feeling rushed.”
As well as leading chair yoga once a week, Sanders-Passmore also teaches two mat yoga classes a day, five days a week in her studio on St. Peters Road.
“Proving to people they can do yoga is really exciting to me.”
She’s also the registered massage therapist (RMT) at Sanctuary Yoga and Massage, which has a waiting list for appointments. Her 1,600 square-foot studio also houses the Shoppe
Sanctuary, which sells the usual yoga accoutrements as well as a line of Canadian-made cosmetics, Pure Anada, chosen for their mild yet enduring formulation.
FROM CELLO PLAYER TO MASSAGE THERAPIST
Sanders-Passmore’s path to owning and running a yoga studio and RMT practice on P.E.I. began as she sat in a different chair at Dalhousie University in the 1990s.
She was a professional cello player, just graduating from the bachelor of music program in Halifax. A fibromyalgia diagnosis forced her to make a painful decision.
“When you’re playing as a professional, like I was, you’re expected to play for eight hours a day. It’s your job. And at that time, it was getting challenging to play for eight minutes.”
For a while, she found solace and relief in high-energy fitness, becoming a personal trainer and fitness class leader in Cambridge, Ont. The movement helped her symptoms, but an injury forced her hand again. “My chin was glued to my shoulder.”
But she had to go to work, there was no one to take her place.
One of the gym regulars took pity. As it turned out, that regular, Rob Huffgart, was a registered massage therapist, and she was on board for some relief. It was her first experience with clinical massage therapy. She signed up to be a client and was soon inspired to become a massage therapist as well.
TRYING OUT YOGA
In 1999, she enrolled the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy in Cambridge, Ont.
Her boyfriend at the time, a bodybuilder, was the perfect recipient for her new knowledge.
“They’re really in tune with their bodies, so he gave me really great feedback.” Getting the extra input helped her skills grow and kept her enthusiasm fuelled.
Soon enough, she was running her own practice in Cambridge, with space to spare.
Hoping to rent it out, she approached Denise Davis-Gains, a yoga instructor she knew from her time at the gym. Sanders-Passmore knew Davis-Gains had a good reputation hoped to get one of her students.
“I just kind of assumed I couldn’t afford her.”
But Davis-Gains loved Sanders-Passmore’s studio space and the two women struck a bargain. Davis-Gains would use the space for her yoga teacher-training and, instead of paying rent to Sanders-Passmore, she’d teach yoga classes for free.
Figuring she’d better sample her wares, Sanders-Passmore attended one of the classes.
“I knew I was stiff, both from my fibromyalgia and from my job as a massage therapist,” she said. “It was also the most stressful period of my life. So, I knew it couldn’t be a bad thing to try yoga.”
She was confident she’d be able to keep up but wasn’t so sure about the “meditation stuff.”
The class opened with a savasana and guided meditation. Her mind was filled with grocery lists and other to-dos. But she went with it, wanting to experience and learn.
The yoga movements were gentle and just right for her beginner level.
“At the end, she did the guided savasana again and it was much easier the second time around,” said Sanders-Passmore. “I got to slow that chatter down and I got a few moments of peace. And that was really something.”
She was hooked. Many classes later, Davis-Gains suggested she become an instructor.
“I laughed out loud at her,” she said. “Plus-sized yoga instructors were a very rare breed back 10 years ago.”
Intimidated by the cohorts of skinny 20-something dancers and gymnasts taking the teacher training, Sanders-Passmore was worried she wouldn’t fit it.
“I didn’t feel like the typical yogi.”
But she considered it for a while and decided to “jump right in” and 200 hours later she was an instructor.
In 2013, Sanders-Passmore moved home to P.E.I. to be closer to her parents.
That’s when she opened Sanctuary.
Over time, her clientele grew, thanks to some savvy business decisions. She invested in the space she wanted right away.
She hired a web developer to help get her website underway. She set up an online booking system that’s optimized for mobile users and, for a while, used an answering service to handle bookings. She also recruited help with videos and photography. But eventually her business grew so busy she wasn’t feeling very zen.
One hectic Friday, she texted her husband, Sean Passmore.
“I just can’t do it this way anymore. I need help.”
“Don’t worry about it, babe,” came the reply. “We’re going to make a plan.”
He was looking for a change from his work in retail and within a month they were a team at work as well as home. Neither of them has looked back.
“Best decision ever,” she said. “I get compliments daily about Sean.”
Now he works the desk, signing in clients and handling payments so Brenda can focus on providing massage or teaching yoga.
“He keeps me organized. I’m a creative one, I have all the ideas and the inspiration, but sometimes I need him to ground me.”
Grounded, as if she was sitting in a chair.
“Sweep those arms into prayer,” says her voice in the video.
Sanders-Passmore presses her hands together at her chest.